Today the men from St. James Anglican Church on the rotary came for a visit to Bethany United. Norman Graham, a lay leader in the church since the 1950’s share the historical development of our church site, inside and outside. I confess I don’t know much about Bethany’s history so this information was fascinating to hear. Church history has never been a passion of mine, in large part because what I have found in church world what is the practice of the church seems to be quite separate from its history. For instance in a church history we might spend a lot of time on the name of the Ministers, not what type of ministry they offered, on the theory behind the design of the building, even though it is used in a much different manner, and on the purpose of congregation coming together, even though the reason the church remains may be something very different.
I tend be interested in history and architecture as it has to do with function, how the people of the church use the space and understand its history, as opposed to the original intent. So today listening to Norman I was thinking how the intent 156 years ago lined up with the function of today. One connection point was the social setting of the building, that back then and now the church functioned as a community centre, a place where local residents, no matter their church affiliation or lack thereof, came together to form community. The place where there was little connection between intent and practice for me came around the pieces of the worship hardware. It is rare to hear people tell me, in my visits with the 150 people I have met around kitchen tables thus far, they are fascinated by our stained glass windows or the design of the sanctuary or the history found in the Chapel.
People at Bethany value their history but that history generally has more to do with people than physical pieces in the church. People do love their sanctuary, but it is as a whole organic unit, not specific pieces. It is the effect of walking into the church, feeling all the pieces of hardware, that folks are overwhelmed with a sense of something holy. I have yet to have someone say, as they do at many other churches, I just love (stained glass windows or the type of pews or the wood used or the light that streams through the windows)… Bethany comes as a package deal and the enjoyment of this place is the combination of the clean lines of its worship space and the sense of community in the people.
As Bethany moves to a place where we decide if we are going to renovate the space (there are expensive challenges to deal with on the property end), to invite a developer to engage us with plans and sharing real estate and worship space, or move to another location this sense of sacred space will become more relevant. What do we value about our space, what makes our sacred space into a place where the sacred speaks to us, and in what ways do we want to change the space to reflect the presence of God we experience today?
We shall see.